Reviewby Theron Martin,
Etotama [Collector's Edition]
The wacky, fourth wall-breaking escapades of the Eto-Shin of the Zodiac and the outsider wanting in, the cat Eto-Musume known as Nya-tan, continue. Adventures this time include the unfortunate side effects of someone like Takeru, who has such high-quality Sol/Lull, getting sick with a divine virus; an epic Kick The Can match; a flashback/recap episode as torturous in its twists and turns as the snake Eto-Shin who guides it; a televised race involving the Eto-Shin which has been descending into ratings trouble of late; Nya-tan learning Shogi; and of course the perversity of Moo-tan and her insistence that Nya-tan once promised to marry her (which of course Nya-tan doesn't remember). At the end of it all stands the toughest foe: the Rat Eto-Shin Chu-tan, who is the most powerful of the lot and still fully determined to permanently destroy the Cat Clan. But how did Chu-tan come to hate Nya-tan so much? And what that happened 60 years ago led to both that and Nya-tan losing her memory? All will be revealed.
In anime, it is not at all unusual for comedy series which are not purely episodic to turn serious (or at least mostly serious) in their final few episodes in order to resolve whatever semblance of plot is guiding them. Often this does not work terribly well, as the serious approach cuts so strongly against the series' own grain that it makes for a rough ride. Shockingly, Etotama is an exception on that. For all that it often seems almost desperate to entertain with zany, frenetic action, it actually brings home its paper-thin core plot – about Chu-tan's vendetta against Nya-tan – with amazing strength, cleverness, and satisfying emotion. Anime history is littered with the corpses of anime series who strive for the kind of climax that Etotama achieves but fall well short.
Unfortunately getting there involves muddling through several more episodes of brain-numbing antics, as the substance of that serious climax does not start to gel until late in episode 10 (of 12). Prior to then, even hints at what's really going on are few and impossible to meaningfully collect; we just have the vague suggestion that Chu-tan hasn't always hated Nya-tan and that Chu-tan may have somehow become corrupted. That does not result in any clear expectation that the series is going to get dramatically better at some point. Instead viewers have to endure a painfully silly episode about extreme training to learn Shogi or a variety of other dumb antics. Mercifully, the King does not appear again, and those dumb antics can sometimes be quite funny. Some of the fourth wall-breaking content this time even shows a little inspiration; for instance, a bit in episode 5 about how most of the Eto-Shin get turned naked except for censoring lights which cannot be removed (and at least one character does try to remove them!) milks that joke particularly well. A running joke about Nya-tan trying to entice the monkey and dog Eto-Shin with premium bananas and bones, respectively, also hits home, as do some of the character quirks. Contrarily, Takeru continues to be the calm at the center of it all, more a person for the other characters to interact with and bounce off of than a true active part of the series. In fact, other than generate Sol/Lull by being such a nice guy, there's really only one thing of consequence that he actually does in these eight episodes.
All of this starts to change in episode 10. Though the episode starts out with more tomfoolery by the lecherous Moo-tan, it eventually shows a flashback explaining why Moo-tan is so smitten with Nya-tan. That flashback manages a sentimental spark to a degree that the series has not previously been able to achieve, as while Moo-tan is clearly overreacting to what Nya-tan promised her, the promise nonetheless feels genuine and well-timed. That indirectly leads to the truth about the Chu-tan and Nya-tan starting to come out as the second half of the episode turns purely serious, and the revelations continue through episode 11 and into the final confrontation in episode 12. Surprisingly, the writing not pull something out of its ass here; it actually takes everything that the series has established about how this setting works, including the classic stories about how the Cat ended up excluded from the Chinese Zodiac, and creates a sensible framework for how the current-day problems arose without anyone realizing it. Particularly clever is the way it explains the Cat's role in the grand scheme of things, including the interesting notion that Nya-tan actually wound up originally being excluded by her own choice and has other motives for why she wants to join the Zodiac now. And again, it actually all makes sense. That all leads to a well-executed climax which some may even find emotional.
As with the earlier episodes, the action scenes in the Spirit World settings, where the Eto-Shin and Eto-Musume get transformed into Pretty Mode (here explained as their Sol/Lull becoming condensed), are a regular feature, though not in every episode. The quality of the CG animation in them varies markedly, with battles in the episodes 5-9 range looking weaker and less articulated. The budget was clearly saved for the Moo-tan vs. Chu-tan head-to-head in episode 10 and especially the final Nya-tan vs. Chu-tan showdown in episode 12, where all sort of flashy and dramatic moves and time-stop sequences bolster dynamic, highly-mobile fights. Also as before, the series' strongest visual highlight is the inventive, detailed backgrounds used for those fights. The character depictions and general artistic quality in the regular world settings is hardly spectacular but is at least consistent. Fan service is mostly limited to the aforementioned censored-as-a-joke scene and Moo-tan's sparse normal get-up, as a couple of other scenes where characters end up nearly naked are not really played up as service. To put it in American rating terms, this is on the mild end of the PG-13 range. (In fact, the releases are rated 13+.)
The music for the series remains largely unchanged from what I said about it in my review of the first volume. However, I am upping its grade a couple of steps because of how well it promotes the dramatic impact of key scenes in the last two episodes.
Parts 2 and 3 are both standard for the deluxe Pony Canyon releases: both a (sub-only, in English or Spanish) Blu-Ray and a DVD are included in an oversized case. Each contains a quartet of roughly 7 x 10” art cards which, taken together with Part 1, covers all of the Eto-Shin and Nya-tan. Each also has similarly-sized booklet with profiles of the characters covered by the cards (plus a couple of extra ones for the Part 3 booklet), background art samples, song lyrics in untranslated katakana and romaji, and interviews; the Part 2 booklet features Supervising Writer Deko Akao, while the Part 3 booklet features the composer, sound designer, and the main staff of the manga version. The most interesting detail to come out of those interviews is that there is supposedly a lot of Showa-era humor in this, which will probably fly over the heads of most Western viewers. (It definitely did for me.) The sparse Extras on the main disks are limited to commercials, promos, and two Stage Scene Movies, which are roughly two minute explorations of some of the CG settings for the battle scenes set to music. Each part also has an audio CD, though the cuts on them total only about 25 minutes between them. Seems like waste to split that between two disks, as it could have easily all been put on one disk. That these sets are overpriced for what you get should go without saying at this point, as should complaints about how the cases (with their annoying clear plastic covers) are awkward to shelve.
So the payoff at the end of the series is actually worth it. Too bad it wastes so much time and effort in getting there.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Strong finale, some humor does land quite well, some exciting battle scenes.
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